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Social norms in water services: Exploring the fair price of water

Ossi Heino
Tampere University of Technology, Department of Chemistry and Bioengineering, Tampere, Finland; ossi.heino@tut.fi

Annina Takala
Tampere University of Technology, Department of Chemistry and Bioengineering, Tampere, Finland; annina.takala@tut.fi

ABSTRACT: The aim of this article is to analyse price fairness in water services. Although a considerable amount of literature has been published on water pricing, these studies have mainly approached the question from instrumental and rational perspectives. Little attention has been paid to the human side of water pricing. Therefore, the general objective of this research is to shed light on these softer factors, filling the gap in knowledge of the emotional connections with water services. In this research, we explored peopleʼs ideas and views about water pricing by conducting 74 interviews in 11 municipalities in Finland. The results suggest that people are not just rational consumers of a good but also have emotional ties to water utilities and municipal decision-making. The general attitude towards a water utility is confident and sympathetic if its operations and municipal decision-making processes are considered as fair, and conversely, unsympathetic if operations and decision-making are considered unfair. This is a topical issue as many water utilities are facing pressures to increase water prices; being fair appeared to be a crucial way to gain appreciation and support through difficult times. Because fairness seems to be an emergent property of social experiences, special attention should be paid to the 'soft side' of water services.

KEYWORDS: Water services, water pricing, price fairness, social norms, Finland